Another ‘Pinocchio’ doesn’t draw originality from its well of resources, but Disney has us invested with a great director choice.
Paul King becoming a true household name in the family film genre is probably one of the better things to come out of the movie industry in the last couple of months. Maybe this was partly due to good timing — the unadulterated warmth and cheer of King’s Paddington series has been widely celebrated, especially in the wake of Paddington 2‘s immense acclaim.
Despite setting up shop at Warner Bros. — first with the Paddington films and more recently, a new version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — King has now set his sights on joining the ranks of another huge media conglomerate. According to Variety, he will direct Disney’s live-action Pinocchio remake. The new version of the classic Carlo Collodi story will be based on a script originally written by Chris Weitz (Cinderella) now currently being reworked by acclaimed writer Jack Thorne (Wonder). Pinocchio will follow in the footsteps of Disney’s other classics that have been adapted into live-action films.
Is “Pinocchio” a specifically whimsical narrative, in the vein of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”? In a way, they’re extremely similar. Both are stories with a significantly broad, fantastical appeal to children but can be somewhat uncomfortable to grapple with, too, when it comes to their teachable moments. In Roald Dahl’s “Charlie,” Willy Wonka punishes children for their greed. In “Pinocchio,” the eponymous puppet is cursed with a nose that grows whenever he tells a lie — or at least, when he is disobedient. He has to learn what it means to be a real boy from his cricket conscience: respect, honesty, and hard work.
Could there then be a sense that working on Pinocchio would shove King into a box as a director? This is always a possibility. But perhaps being typecast for life-affirming movies isn’t a horrible thing. We can even appreciate far more than just the content of King’s films. His Paddington movies are aesthetically pleasing and showcase a commitment to production design that makes for a heightened visual impact, marrying animation and live-action into a seamless final product. In reality, if King isn’t yet tired of making fun, smart family films, working with Disney is a huge opportunity for him that could maybe lead to bigger, even different projects down the line.
Rather pertinently, King’s addition to the Disney family continues the trend of remakes from the company that specifically attract intriguing director choices. Just to name a few: they got David Lowery for Pete’s Dragon; Niki Caro will be making Mulan; Tim Burton (who admittedly probably sounds less interesting than risky these days) is working on Dumbo. With movies that undoubtedly bank on our desire for uncomplicated, easy family cinema, ensuring that they will be given a unique perspective by their filmmakers at least keeps some of the experience exciting, even if it isn’t all that unexpected.
King is a safe choice for Pinocchio, at least compared to those directors aforementioned. We already know that he can make a fun movie for both children and adults without approaching the source material in a terribly generic manner (and also not going full Burton!Alice in Wonderland). Hopefully, there won’t be a need to maneuver any awkwardly creepy CGI a la Beauty and the Beast either. Paddington Bear looks and feels capricious and charming rather than unnerving like Lumiere and Cogsworth do in Disney’s most recent live-action remake. As it was when the Willy Wonka redo was announced, what we know about Pinocchio just sounds so much more inviting from the get-go knowing that King is involved because of the little details in his films that transform them from kitschy to sincere.
“Pinocchio” is such a quintessential story that it’s been adapted many times over in a myriad of different ways. Yet with Disney’s 1940 animated version being basically a cultural touchstone, we’re aware enough of how the story goes to expect quite a bit from King. This obviously won’t be the Guillermo del Toro stop-motion animated version that could have been, which sounds at least more pointedly political than a Disney film could ever overtly be. But the studio’s live-action remakes have been smart before and there is little doubt that King’s film would be anything but.